Thursday, June 12, 2014

Hiking the Mountains to Sound Greenway: Marvelous Mt. Washington

With ever increasing numbers of happy hikers hitting the trails near Seattle, somewhere off the beaten path was our goal for a weekend hike. While local hiking guides declare Mt. Washington, with its unmarked trailhead and confusing junctions, as lesser traveled, I'm here to say...on a sunny Sunday, this hike is definitely discovered. Think overflow parking.

Nevertheless, it's a lovely hike with splendid views from the top. And there are fewer crowds on the trail than across the Snoqualmie Valley at Mt. Si and Little Si or nearby Rattlesnake Ledge.

Write-ups about Mt. Washington vary wildly in the distances for this hike, from  5.5 and/or 6.5 miles according to the Washington Trails Association (they contradict themselves) to 12 miles according to  My quads and knees told me about 8 miles round trip with an elevation gain of about 3,400 feet.

On an early June weekend, we start up the not-too-grueling but steady trail  through dense, lush second-growth forest on the lower mountain under a cover of low-lying clouds. (There's a trick to getting to the trailhead, but more about that below under When You Go.)

While there aren't views for much of the lower portion of the hike, at about 2 miles we stop for a view across the valley at the Owl Bench, tucked against one of the numerous rock walls along the route. With the clouds we can't see anything but white mist.

Owl Bench

A little ways farther we cross another clearing beneath a talus slope in a cleft of the mountain. We've ascended into the clouds by now and the view of misty forest, while I think enchanting, isn't panoramic.

After more than 90 minutes of hiking and still being in the woods, the two 11-year-olds in our group are getting hungry and tired (or more likely bored because they can run circles around us adults on the soccer field). So we plop down for lunch at a nondescript spot on the trail. 

Replenished, we continue on because descending hikers keep telling us about the glorious sunshine above.  Along the way I can't resist taking a few shots of the many lovely trilliums alongside the trail.

After about 3 miles we finally emerge from forest and clouds and begin traversing rocky scree/talus slopes and more scrubby alpine forest. Another half mile or so and we finally old logging/service road. 

I always get slightly peeved when I see someone can drive up what I've labored to achieve. But these days the only use of the road, if at all, is to service the cell tower at the summit. 

So we cross the road and push up another quarter mile or so to the top. Where, it appears, we're floating on an island above the clouds, amongst other snow-capped and craggy islands.

Mailbox Peak

A little rocky outcrop in a meadow area at the last switchback to the top is actually a much nicer place to stop, with splendid views of Mt. Rainer to the south. The summit above is another rock outcrop, but views are partially obscured by trees.

Rainier above the clouds.

 So we enjoy the sun, take lots of pictures, snack, and head down just as the cloud-sea starts dissipating.

Those 11-year-olds?  They chose to hang out at the wetland below and are radioing every few minutes impatiently asking when we'll be back down. When we do get back, they feign nonchalance about missing the visual feast on top. Or maybe they truly don't care. I don't know, it has been too long since I was 11.

On the way down, I notice a cave I missed on the way up that's a popular rock-climbing spot. If we didn't have two girls desperate for our post-hike ice cream stop at Scott's Dairy Freeze in North Bend, I'd have stayed and watch what this guy does.

 More people are coming up as we descend, and when we get back to the parking lot, it's full with overflow parking onto the access road. And a line at the bathroom, where I find myself standing in line behind the same woman who was in front of me in the same line 4 hours earlier.

Small world, huh?

Overall I give this hike two thumbs up. Good exercise, good views, gorgeous forest, interesting rocks and walls, and not as crowded as other nearby well-trod trails.

Have you done this hike? Would love to hear how it was for you or about your favorite hikes in the comments below.  Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go
To get to Mt. Washington from Seattle, drive east on I-90 to exit 38. Head south (right), immediately crossing the South Fork Snoqualmie River, and take the first right turn into Ollalie State Park, a few hundred feet from the highway. Follow the gravel road to the end, parking near the bathrooms at the end of the lot.

Start at the short spur trail up to the John Wayne Trail/Iron Horse Trail near the end of the parking lot by the bathroom. Stay right at the junction, continuing to climb uphill for another tenth of a mile, and stay right at the next junction with the John Wayne/Iron Horse Trail—a wide gravel road. In a few hundred feet, head south on the second trail into the forest, 0.3 mile from the trailhead, marked by a small rock cairn, the start of the Mount Washington Trail. True, there are several junctions along the trail, but I didn't they were confusing.


Suezy Proctor said...

Interesting adventure. I've never hiked Mt Washington. I loved the views from the top and when the clouds disappeared...and will never turn away from staring for some length at a trillium. Neither one of the two people at the entrance to that cave look prepared for caving...I wonder what they ended up doing? I wonder if that cave has a name and what the landscape of the cave is like?

Thanks, as always for an interesting read and wonderful photos Jill.

jill said...

Hey Suezy, I don't think that guy planned to go into the cave as much as climb up and above the overhang at the entrance, see all those climbing thingies rigged into the rocks? Always appreciate you jumping in and commenting! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Jill, I have never hiked Mt Washington. Now it's on my list. What's the elevation gain? Nice photos and as always, I like your writing.


martha said...

The trilliums are beautiful. The cave looked inviting. And the top of Mt. Washington appeared to be in another world.
Beautiful pictures,